Perception vs. Reality

Children playing soccer in an alley stop to say hello in the Marka neighborhood of Amman.

“But is it safe?” is the question I often received when I told people I was going to Jordan this month. I am writing to tell my family and friends that our perceptions of Jordan and the Middle East can be described as something closer to what Kellyanne Conway would call alternative facts. The truth is, I have felt very safe here. Like any large metropolis, Amman is a multifarious city with millions of people from around the world and across the region including Jordanians, Palestinians, Iraqis, and Syrians. As in any city, one must be conscious of their surroundings, not talk to random strangers on the street, and walk in groups. To say that Amman is secure is an understatement. The United States spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year to make sure Jordan remains secure. Every time I leave our hotel I see men and women in uniform patrolling the streets. Explaining that Jordan is safe, however, is not the point of this letter. Instead, I want you to know Jordan is beautiful.

The Jordanian landscape is incredible with rolling hills, white rocks, and palm trees. The people are virtuous, kind, and respectful. The cityscape of Amman stands out yet blends together with the surrounding desert all at once. The tan stone buildings almost invisible, except for the oval windows and red tile roofs peeling out from the hills. During the week there are bustling bazaars in Amman, on the weekends families gather outside of the city to have a picnic, and at all times one can find deliciously fresh and tasty food. Furthermore, the cucumbers actually taste like more than just water and I am eating raw tomatoes without making a face of disgust.

The other day we visited Jordan University and sat in on a women’s empowerment class that was discussing the novel “The Awakening.” The discussion on feminism, agency, individuality, and culture left everyone in the room feeling stronger. For the women in the class, you could sense the transformation in their how they think and what they hope for by the dialogue in the room. It is in these moments that I realize how similar we all are. While we come from different places we share so much in common. We dream, we want the best for our children, we want to learn and see the world, to be able to provide for ourselves and for our children, and most of all we want to be happy. Throughout the week, we’ve been invited into the homes of refugees and have listened to their incredible stories of hardship, perseverance and family. Being a refugee is incredibly dehumanizing so we are sure to ask about their passions, their hopes, and their dreams the very things that make them human. However, it is hard to know whether they have a future when our world leaders preach xenophobic rhetoric.

It is important that we do not let our shared humanity succumb to fear. Fear makes us illogical and allows us concede the things that we should never lose hold of. We let go of our privacy and rights in exchange for security and surveillance. We let go of our ethics and love for blindness and hatred. We must do the extra work and shed the stereotypes we buy into and divest from stores of injustice. “Stereotypes are oppressive” Rula Qawas the professor of the feminist literature class declared to her students. I hope that one of the things I am able to do in this program is not only break the stereotypes that I hold, but help break the stereotypes of those around me. Diversity is difference, and differences are to be celebrated. Yet our only real difference are the places we are born and the circumstances we come into.

Bryce Cracknell is a T’18 Alum, and was a 2017 Immerse Participant, and Kenan Research Assistant.

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